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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2011

    New to database concepts

    Hello. I'm a new member and happy to find this forum. I am attending an online course and researching some areas of databases and the design of them.

    I am a stickler for knowing definitions and have been unable to find the actual origin of the word databases. I understand that it was once two words "data" and "base". I do understand the word data as being information but the word base has many definitions. I believe that the definitions "area or center of operations", and "foundation" would be the most applicable here. If I am correct then would a database be defined as a central location where data is stored? or a base storage area for operations to be performed on data? Something in that realm?

    From what I understand the DBMS is the application that creates a database in the format and structure in a way that the particular DBMS is meant to perform operations on data. The database cannot be created unless there is a DBMS to define the data structures and then create it. I just want to be clear on all of this. I'm interested both in theory and application.

    Is a database a collection of multiple files or a single file? Can a single file in a multiple file database be referred to as a database standing alone? And Why in the heck are professionals working in this area still calling spreadsheets and similar files databases? Isn't that way off the mark, even though data from those files can be imported into databases?
    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    In front of the computer
    see the Database citation at | Find the Meanings and Definitions of Words at for the formal definition.

    I'm working from a very old (circa 1978) and mostly unused memory, but I think it was from either CACM or an IBM Fellowship Paper that I read the first formal definition of database. The reference was about the switch from physical media (tape or punched cards) to the concept of "online data" and the need to form a "Data base" from which to build applications. The gist of the definition was that data formed the base on which all programming was built, and that having a "data base" would allow applicaitons to be developed faster and easier than ever before. Unfortunately, I can't give you an exact citation... Too many years have passed for my feeble brain to retain that level of detail.

    Yes, a database is a collection of zero or more files. Depending on how the database engine manages its persistance, there can be no file at all or there can be multiple files per database entity (such as a SQL table) and almost everything in between.

    A single file from a multiple file database may or may not be able to stand alone. I can only think of one case where it could be considered a database on its own.

    Professionsals working in information technology don't call spreadsheets databases. Users sometimes do.

    In theory, theory and practice are identical. In practice, theory and practice are unrelated.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Good. I'm on the right track with my splitting the compound word into two and then focusing on "Base" as the center or area of operations.

    Thanks for the link to ACM looks like hours of fun there.

    The struggle in my brain over the definitions of file and database is pretty much
    separated the two and sent them to their own corners. With so many similarities I was having a hard time clarifying.

    I'm still a bit confused about how a DBMS is considered a property of a database when the DBMS is what creates the database. Any thoughts on this?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    London, UK
    I think the closest you can get to a useful definition of a database is this (from the DAMA Dictionary of Data Management):

    database / data base
    1. An organized collection of data stored electronically in a structured way to enable rapid search and retrieval by a computer.
    2. Any organized collection of data, not necessarily stored electronically.
    Even an electronically stored database doesn't have to be a collection of "files". It could be entirely RAM-based for example and most people wouldn't use the term "file" to describe directly addressable memory space. Or it could be on dedicated hardware without any filesystem.

    Quote Originally Posted by RoadTech View Post
    I'm still a bit confused about how a DBMS is considered a property of a database when the DBMS is what creates the database. Any thoughts on this?
    A DBMS is not a property of a database and I can't think why anyone would consider it so. A DBMS is the software that creates, manages and provides access to a database. Unfortunately, you will sometimes find the word "database" used in place of "DBMS" to refer to the software. That (mis)usage of the word "database" is very sloppy and regretable in my opinion because it can only lead to confusion.

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